U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) announced a three-prong approach to ensuring U.S. employers are hiring legally authorized workers. ICE’s strategy focuses on:
- Compliance, through increased I-9 inspections, civil fines and referrals for debarment from immigration benefit programs like Labor Condition Applications and PERM Labor Certifications;
- Enforcement, through arrests of not only of workers employed without proper authorization but also of the employers who hire them; and
- Outreach, through the Ice Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program.
In implementing this three-prong approach, ICE stated it will prioritize violators who abuse and exploit their workers, aid in smuggling or trafficking, facilitate document fraud, or create an entire business model using an entire workforce. With respect to the compliance and enforcement prongs, ICE pointed to a recent case in which it levied a historic $95 million civil settlement against an employer for willfully hiring undocumented workers. ICE also stated it would consider factors such as an employer’s cooperation and culpability in determining, on a case-by-case basis, the most suitable consequences for an employer’s immigration violations. Further, ICE warned that its worksite enforcement investigations could lead to discovery of other criminal or employment law violations that would make the employer vulnerable to additional liability.
Regarding the outreach prong, in its statement ICE encouraged employers to use the IMAGE program to help ensure they are maintaining a compliant workforce. The IMAGE program includes a self-assessment questionnaire and enrollment in the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program. The goals of the IMAGE program, according to ICE, are to ensure participants pledge to maintain a secure and stable workforce and complete education designed to prevent unlawful hiring practices.
Just this week ICE demonstrated its commitment to immigration enforcement when it conducted multiple worksite raids of a well-known convenience store franchise. Given the strong message sent by these raids, U.S. employers hiring foreign workers must take ICE’s three-prong strategy seriously, using it as a blueprint for their compliance efforts. Some key focus areas for U.S. employers include:
- Procedures for screening job applicants. Recruiters should have an understanding of what can and cannot be asked of candidates regarding their immigration status.
- I-9 completion and retention. HR representatives and legal teams should understand I-9 rules. Employers may wish to conduct samples audits periodically.
- Strict adherence to Federal immigration laws. HR representatives, in-house legal counsel, and owners of businesses that sponsor employment-based visas and green cards should work closely with immigration counsel to ensure their filings are fully compliant.
- Periodic audits of HR operations. Identifying potential vulnerable areas in HR programs and improving them is important. Employers may want to consider providing comprehensive trainings for HR so it is empowered to spot and resolve issues related to foreign workers before they escalate. Such training could incorporate materials distributed by ICE so the message sent in the training is aligned with ICE’s information.